By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - Every Saturday, a group of about 20 die-hard members of the Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon Club gather at the Harker Heights Activities Center to trade cards and compete for winners points, badges and patches.
To many, the subjects are more familiar as television shows - both Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon have run for years as children's cartoons. But to the adults and youth engaged in an afternoon of sharing cards and focused battle, the club is a way to make friends, increase card collections and progress to the national game level.
"I've been playing both card games since I was 12," said Courtney Hicks, 28. "I liked both the TV shows when I was younger and that's why I got into the games. I like the strategy. It's like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle. Every card fits into the deck."
Hicks, administrative assistant at Theresa's Creative Minds Learning Center in Harker Heights, said the game involves reading comprehension and basic math, mixed with a healthy dose of fun with other players. Hicks said he attends every week.
The club began in 2007 when moderator Michael Gawedzinski moved to Harker Heights from Missouri to work as a military contractor. He and his sons collected game cards in Missouri and were very active in a club there.
But when the family relocated, they discovered the Harker Heights club had dwindled from 40 members to almost none. Gawedzinski, 43, decided to start it back up under the sponsorship of the Harker Heights Public Library. Membership has grown during the past five years and includes adults and children.
Gawedzinski said Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon are complex games that require concentration and skill. Using three types of cards - energy, trainer or Pokemon - players compete until the game ends, or when someone runs out of total cards, loses all the Pokemon cards or captures all six prize cards.
"We play both games here, and they're a combination of bridge and War with a twist," said Gawedzinski. "They come down to multiple high-card wins. The neat thing is the players learn how to read, strategize and do math under the guise of Japanese pocket monsters."
Gawedzinski said his job as moderator is to supervise card trades to make sure they are even, keep track of the games played and provide advice on improving players' decks.
Players compete for points, trying to fill up a 32-game card that entitles them to a metal badge or a patch. Depending on the number of accumulated points, said Gawedzinski, players can be invited to compete in tournaments on national or world levels.
Salado resident Logan Rickey, 9, has been playing for about five years and hopes to get good enough to move on to those higher levels of competition.
Rickey, who plays Pokemon and has about 500 cards, said he started collecting cards after his older brother bought some for him.
Rickey said he would like to play on the national level, but it may take a while because the game is complicated. "When you first start playing, it's tricky," he said. "But after a while, you get better and start winning.
"Right now, my skill level is about medium," he said. "Pokemon takes time, and you have to know what you're doing and focus on the game. I like playing because it's fun to win and get good cards."
Paige Watkins, 10, of Killeen, started playing Pokemon this month after collecting cards for about six years.
She has about 6,000 cards, and her brothers got her involved in collecting, which she began because she liked the cards' graphics.
Watkins said she joined the club to meet others with her interest. "When I got around other kids who were playing the trading card games, it was interesting," she said. "I think playing is pretty cool. I keep losing right now, but I'm looking forward to the day when I can actually beat someone."
Contact Kim Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.
If you go
The Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon Club meets from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays at the Harker Heights Activities Center, 400 Indian Trail in Harker Heights. For more information, call (254) 953-5491. The club is free and open to the public. Players must be at least 6 years old to participate.